Back To Life: The 20 Most Notorious Character Resurrections In Television History
This article is full of spoilers. So if you have not yet caught up with the shows you want to see, be warned.
Television is no longer safe. At one time you could take comfort with the certainty that your favorite characters would be back again and again week after week, or at least until the series was cancelled. Death on a television show was very rare, and usually only reserved for when the actor who played the character actually did die. Today's television shows have become a slaughterhouse. You can not get through a season without four or five major characters being killed off. How often does a show advertise an upcoming episode with the words "And one of them will not make it out alive". However, this season had seen a new trend. The resurrection.
Just as there is nothing new about television characters dying, there is nothing new about a television character coming back from the dead. But this season has had a lot of very notable resurrections. Game of Thrones being the standout having resurrected Jon Snow after having stabbed him to death in last years season finale. But this week alone saw such notable resurrection of dead characters as Fish Mooney on Gotham, Carl Elias on Person of Interest, and the resurrection to rival that of Jon Snow, Elizabeth Keen on The Blacklist. Actually, Elizabeth Keen's miraculous rise from the grave was planned by the producers. Having appeared to have died a few weeks ago from complications of childbirth, the season finale revealed that she and some accomplices had faked her death. And some of those accomplices included NBC itself that floated the idea that her husband would be in a spin-off series.
The recent resurrections may seem outrageous, but like I said, they are not unique. There have been countless resurrections throughout the years. Below is a list of the 20 most notorious resurrections in television history. Some characters were brought back by magic, some via science fiction, and some simply faked their deaths. But nearly all surprised and confused viewers when what the person they thought was gone and buried was once again walking amongst the living.
#20 Buffy Summers ( Sarah Michelle Gellar ) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This was the least surprising resurrection of a character in television history. In 2001 the producers of hit WB network series Buffy The Vampire Slayer asked the network for more money per episode. It was costing Joss Whedon more than $1 million per episode to produce the series, and wanted the WB network to at least pay the full production cost. But the WB refused, which had the shows studio FOX deciding to either move the show to their network, or cancel it. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was going to reach it's 100th episode at the end of the season, which meant it would finally have enough episodes to sell to syndication, allowing Fox to recoup the production money and start to make a profit. But there was a cap on how much money a syndicated series made, which meant the series would make no more money for any episodes produced after episode 100. Moving it to FOX was risky, because it could have resulted in other networks refusing to buy any more FOX produced series in fear FOX would reclaim them if they became hits. So Whedon knew that there was a good possibility Season #5 would be the end of the series, and began writing it as if it would be the last. That was until rival network UPN stepped in and offered FOX $3 million per episode for the series, with a guaranteed pickup for two full seasons. So by the time the final episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer aired, everyone knew the series would continue for two more years on UPN.
But by that time the final episode for the WB was well into production, and Whedon made no effort to alter it before it was broadcast. In the episode Buffy Summers, the high school cheerleader turned vampire hunter, sacrifices her life by jumping off a tower into an evil vortex that is about to destroy the town. The vortex closes, but Buffy's friends all find her lifeless body on the ground, and the episode ends with a close-up on her grave with the inscription:
Buffy Anne Summers
1981 - 2001
She saved the world a lot
One of the characters even made a guest appearance on spin-off series Angel to tell the characters on that show that Buffy had died. But by the time both episodes aired, fans of the series knew that at least two more seasons would be on UPN, and it made no sense for the series not to continue for that long without it's lead character. Sure enough, the two hour premier on UPN had Buffy's friends using magic to bring her back to life.
#19 Kenny McCormick ( Matt Stone ) - South Park
The success of the viral video The Spirit of Christmas, a short cartoon featuring a fight between Jesus and Santa Claus which kills many of the children watching, soon lead to film makers Trey Parker and Matt Stone fielding offers to expand the short into a weekly series. The Spirit of Christmas was commissioned by FOX executive Brian Garden as a video Christmas card he could email to his friends, many who copied the video and sent it to their friends, who in turn copied the video for their friends. Parker and Stone initially planned to offer their new cartoon to FOX, but eventually passed on that network over censorship issues. It eventually ended up on Comedy Central as South Park. Parker and Stone had initially wanted only two main characters in the series, Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski ( their alter egos ) with the occasional appearance of Eric Cartman as their nemesis. But Comedy Central wanted all four characters from the viral video as the main characters. That included Kenny, Stan and Kyle's friend who in the video gets killed by a stray energy bolt shot by Santa. Parker and Stone pointed out that the only purpose for the Kenny character was to get killed, and if they did include him on South Park then it would only be to kill him off immediately. Comedy Central insisted on Kenny being included, so Parker and Stone did exactly what they threatened to do and killed Kenny off on the first episode. Then again on the second episode. And planned to kill off the character on every episode that followed.
No explanation as to why Kenny was alive again. The first two part episode where Cartman seeks to find his biological father had Kenny dying in part one. In part two Kenny mysteriously materializes next to Kyle and Stan, and is later killed off again. At the end of the fifth season Parker and Stone decided they had grown tired of the joke, and that this time Kenny would die for good. For almost the entire sixth season Kenny remained dead, only appearing in a few episodes as a disembodied spirit before returning in the flesh with no explanation at the end of the season ending Christmas episode. From that point on Kenny only died on the occasional episode. In 2010 the mystery behind Kenny's repeated resurrections is revealed to be that his mother gives birth to a new Kenny that grows within a few hours every time the other dies, this due to his parents once participating in a cult ceremony.
#18 Xev Bellringer ( Xenia Seeberg ) - Lexx
The science fiction fantasy series Lexx began in 1997 as a series of four made for television movies that aired on Showtime. When Showtime declined to commission a second series of movies, the producers began shopping Lexx around to other networks in hopes of financing more episodes. For a while it looked as if Lexx was cancelled for good. When the contracts for the cast members expired, actress Eva Habermann, who played the character Zev, signed on to star in a different television series. A few days after she signed that contract, the producers of Lexx announced they had struck a deal between a Canadian and German television network to finance a series of 20 one hour episodes for a second season. Habermann was able to get time off her next series so that she could film two final episodes of Lexx, so that her character could be killed off. While saving a fellow crew member, Zev gets trapped in a plasma beam, and is reduced to a puddle of yellow liquid. The heartbroken crew of The Lexx collect her watery remains in a bowl, and bring her back to the ship.
While Habermann's contract with another television show forced the producers of Lexx to write her out of the series, that did not mean they wanted to get rid of her character. They had already plotted out the second season, which Zev was to be a big part of. So in the third episode the crew of the Lexx meet a new female alien named Lyekka who is part carnivorous plant. While many would have suspected Lyekka to be the replacement character for Zev, that was not the case. Lyekka takes the remains of Zev, and after ingesting it, is able to regenerate Zev back to life inside a pod. Lyekka tells the crew that she is unable to regenerate Zev as an exact copy of her former self, but never the less the regenerated Zev will still have her past memories. This allowed the producers to recast actress Xenia Seeberg as Zev with a full explanation as to why her appearance had changed. ( They also changed the spelling of Zev's name to Xev, mostly as an inside joke as the new name was pronounced the same as the old. )
#17 Sherlock Holmes ( Jeremy Brett ) - The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Viewers of the Granada television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes may have been shocked when in the series finale Holmes was killed while fighting Professor Moriarty. And they may have been surprised when Granada announced Holmes would be back in a follow up series The Return of Sherlock Holmes. But those viewers familiar with the Sherlock Holmes books, which both series were based on, were not surprised at all. Arthur Conan Doyle created the detective in 1887 for his novel A Study In Scarlet, which was soon followed by a second novel The Sign of Four and several short Holmes stories written for Strand magazine. Holmes may have been a great success for Doyle, but by 1891 he had become so sick of the character that he began thinking of killing him off. In 1893 Doyle finally killed Holmes off in the story The Final Problem. For the first time Holmes meets Professor Moriarty, who the detective describes as "the Napoleon of crime" and credits for masterminding most ( if not all ) of organized crime in Europe. After Holmes thwarted one too many of Moriarty's schemes he decides to kill the detective, and orders a series of hits. When those fail, Moriarty himself tracks Holmes to Germany, meeting him on a cliff above the Reichenbach Falls. Both men engage in a fight, the ending result being that the both end up tumbling off the cliff to their deaths. Once rid of Holmes, Doyle would spend the next ten years writing historical romance novels, none of which were anywhere as successful as his Sherlock Holmes stories.
Fans of Sherlock Holmes were distraught, and constantly wrote to Doyle begging him to somehow bring Holmes back to life. In 1901 Doyle returned to Holmes, writing the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. But this was no resurrection. The story took place a month before Holmes death. After The Hound of the Baskervilles became Doyles most successful and celebrated novel, he knew that he had little choice but to begin writing more Sherlock Holmes stories again. Fortunately Doyle had planned for the possibility of a resurrection when he wrote The Final Problem. As with most of the Holmes stories, it had been written from the perspective of his friend and sidekick John Watson, who did not actually see the detectives death, but only deduced it by the evidence of two sets of footprints going towards the cliff and none returning, signs of a struggle, and a note left behind by Holmes to Watson stating that if he was reading it, then he must have been killed fighting Moriarty. In the first Holmes short story in ten years, The Empty House, Holmes returns and tells Watson that he faked his death in order to track down members of Moriarty's organization. The producer of the Granada television series was aware of this, and knowing that Granada had only commissioned two seasons, decided to dramatize The Final Problem as the last episode. If Granada decided to commission no more Sherlock Holmes episodes, then that story would serve as a perfect ending to the series. When Granada did commission a second Sherlock Holmes series, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first episode was a dramatization of The Empty House.
#16 Norman Buntz ( Dennis Franz ) - Hill Street Blues
When a brash detective played by Dennis Franz was transferred to the Hill Street precinct, viewers knew he was a temporary character. Franz was not in the opening credits, and besides, his character was secretly corrupt. He only lasted three episodes before he was exposed and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Cornered by the police, he took hostages in a bodega. Realizing there was no way out of it, he shot himself in the head with his own gun. That was the season 3 finale. A couple of years later the detective was back. There he was in the season 6 season premier, sitting in the squad room during the morning roll call, alive and well and back on the force, as if nothing happened. No doubt most long time Hill Street Blues viewers were confused. Didn't this character kill himself a couple of years ago? And lets assume he did somehow survive his suicide, they let him back on the force? With no IMDb, Wikipedia or Google back then, viewers had no way of back checking to see just what the heck was going on here.
Producer Steven Bochco will tell you that these were two different characters, both played by the same actor. It was Detective Sal Benedetto who killed himself back in 1983, and the new detective on the force was Detective Norman Buntz. Since two whole seasons had passed since Benedetto had his hostage meltdown, viewers had long forgotten the character's name, but still remembered the actor who played him, hence the mix up. And yet, Buntz was a perfect doppelgänger of Benedetto. They looked the same, dressed the same, talked the same, had the same exact demeanor, even the same mustache. As it turned out, Bochco liked Franz a lot, and was very pleased with his screen character. But with a three episode story arc, and Benedetto having secretly executed a gangster at the end of his first episode, Bochco had no choice but to kill him off as planned. It did not stop him from bringing the same character back two seasons later as soon as there was a vacancy in the cast. On paper Buntz was a new character. But that was just a cheat.
#15 Catwoman ( Julie Newmar ) - Batman
Unlike The Riddler, Penguin and Joker, each who appeared in several episodes in the first season of Batman, Catwoman was planned to be a one shot, much like Bookworm, Zelda the Great and False-Face. And since Catwoman was to be a one and done character, producer William Dozier had no problem killing her off at the end of her second episode. Having just stolen a treasure chest, she was chased by Batman inside a cavern, and had attempted to jump across a chasm when she just barely grabbed the edge of the ledge on the other side. But the weight of the treasure chest on her back was too much, and she began slipping. Batman warned her that she was above a bottomless pit, and if she did not let go of the treasure, she would fall to her death. But she refused to give up her loot, and a few seconds later,lost her grip and fell backwards. A prolonged scream that gradually faded away let us know that Catwoman must have fallen the distance of a skyscraper. Batman himself determined there was no hope for her.
While Catwoman was thought of as a minor Batman villain, her one appearance on the Batman television series generated tons of fan mail. Perhaps it was Julie Newmar's skin tight catsuit that thrilled the viewers. But she had risen so high in popularity that when 20th Century Fox decided to spin the series into a feature film, they decided that Catwoman should be one of the four villains Batman faces. Newmar, who had thought Catwoman would be a one time thing, was already working on another movie. So the part was recast to Lee Meriwether. There was the possibility that this was a different Catwoman. Perhaps that would explain why Catwoman had somehow not only survived what seemed to be a thousand foot plunge, but was able to then climb out. The movie itself gave no explanation. Three episodes into the second season Catwoman returned, and was once again played by Newmar. There was no question that this was the same Catwoman. In fact, in her third appearance that season Catwoman fell to her death again. This time off the roof of a warehouse into the Gotham River. However, unlike the chasm in the cave, the plunge into the river was very survivable. In fact, Catwoman was back again eight episodes later, once again alive and well.
#14 John Locke ( Terry O'Quinn ) - Lost
Killing off a major character was what Lost did best. Sometimes to get rid of characters that were becoming dead weight for the writers. Sometimes because an actor wanted to leave the show to pursue motion pictures. And at least one time to fire a couple of actresses who were arrested on the same night for driving while intoxicated. Once dead, a character never returned. That isn't until John Locke came back to life midway through season 5. He had actually been killed off two seasons prior, but because of the way the series cut back and fourth between past, present and future, it took the entirety of season 4 before you learned that he was the dead man in the coffin, and another half season before the present day story line caught up to his actual death. Locke had escaped from the mysterious island Lost took place on in an effort to convince the other castaways that also escaped the island to return. It was back in civilization where he was killed, his body returned to the island when the others also returned. Once back on the island Locke was walking around again, alive and well. It was not much of a stretch. The first time Locke arrived at the island he was a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, but was mysteriously healed. Another season Locke was mortally wounded by a gunshot, but once again healed. If the island could heal him twice, it could certainly resurrect him from the dead.
Well, actually it didn't. After making it appear that Locke had resurrected for two thirds of a season, in the final episode it is revealed that Locke's dead body is still in his coffin, and what appeared to be Locke was in fact the smoke monster, who is actually an evil malevolent spirit trying to escape the island, and has manifested itself as Locke. If you have never seen the series Lost then you are most likely confused. If you have watched every episode of Lost, you are probably still confused. Needless to say the fake Locke had everyone fooled until his true identity was revealed.
#13 Ray Luca ( Anthony Denison ) - Crime Story
Michael Mann's crime drama set in the 1960s told the tale of the rise of gangster Ray Luca to the position of powerful crime boss, and police detective Mike Torello ( Dennis Farina ) who becomes obsessed with bringing Luca to justice. It was one of the first series to follow a continuing story arc, requiring viewers to watch every episode to keep up with the plot, which is probably one of the reasons why it did poorly in the ratings. When NBC failed to pick it up for a second season, Mann hastily wrote a final episode that ended the series. The season long conflict between Luca and Torello was resolved with a gun battle between them in the streets of Las Vegas, where Torello is apparently mortally wounded, while Luca, who was also shot multiple times, is rescued by his friend Pauli and driven away to a desert cabin to recuperate. While at the cabin Luca realizes that it is inside the testing site for a nuclear bomb. The two men attempt to drive away as fast as possible, but do not get very far before the bomb goes off, apparently atomizing them both.
It was a spectacular ending for Mann's series. Only there was one problem. After the episode aired NBC decided to pick the series up for a second season. Bringing Torello back for a second season was no problem. Even though he appeared to have been gunned down the season before, there was no indication to exactly which body parts those bullets hit. The first episode of the second season had him in a sling, suggesting he had only been hit in the shoulder. As for Luca, there appeared to be no way he could have survived. In fact Torello confirms that Luca had been declared dead. It seemed as if Crime Story was going to need a new villain. But then about a month into the season Ray Luca and Pauli returned, alive and well. A flashback story later in the season revealed that Luca and Pauli did indeed get blasted by the bomb, but were somehow protected by the car they were driving in, only suffering from a temporary bout of radiation sickness as a result.
#12 Brian Griffin ( Seth MacFarlane ) - Family Guy
When the producers of The Simpsons announced they were killing of one of their characters in the first episode of the 2014-15 season, the writers of Family Guy wondered what would happen if they killed off one of their own characters. More specifically, what if they killed off one of the Griffins. The most plausible character to kill off would have been the talking family dog Brian. The more they thought about it, the more they liked the idea. The idea became a reality in the episode The Life of Brian. After he inadvertently alters the time line one too many times, Stewie decides to destroy his time machine. Soon after Brian is run over in the street. He is rushed to the vet, but nothing can be done. After a tearful goodbye to the family, Brian passed away. Stewie tries to build a new time machine so he can prevent Brian from being run over, but discovers the parts are no longer available. The family decides to move on and adopts a new talking dog.
Viewers were caught off guard by the death. Within minutes after the episode aired the internet was swamped with petitions to bring Brian back to life. Millions complained about the fictional character's death. But there was every indication that Brian's death was permanent. Then came the Christmas episode a few weeks later. While the rest of the family liked their new talking dog, Stewie was still not getting along with him. Attempting to win Stewie over, the new dog brought him to the mall to buy him a Christmas gift. It is there that Stewie sees an earlier version of himself, and realizes that he had once traveled to the future ( which is now the current present ) to buy a toy that was not yet available. The past Stewie still had his time machine, which present Stewie uses to go back in time and save Brian, effectively erasing the episodes where Brian was dead. Seth MacFarlane later admitted hey planned to bring Brian back all along. "we'd have to be f*!#ing high to kill Brian permanently"
#11 Davy Crockett ( Fess Parker ) - Disneyland
The initial concept of the ABC network Disneyland series was to air movies and cartoon shorts from Walt Disney Studios while occasionally promoting the original Disneyland theme park, which was still under construction during the series first season. ( And full disclosure, ABC was also the major investor in the Disneyland theme park. ) However, Walt wanted some original content in his series featuring the life and times of historical figures. The first was three episodes featuring real life folk hero Davy Crockett. Airing over the winter of 1955, the Davy Crockett episodes became televisions first hit series. Coonskin caps and other Davy Crockett merchandise flew off the store shelves, while the shows theme song, The Ballad of Davy Crockett, reached #1 on the Billboard chart. Walt Disney himself was caught off-guard by the popularity of the shows. ABC wanted more episodes for the next season. But there was one problem. Walt Disney had killed Davy Crockett off in the third episode.
The real Davy Crockett was a celebrated frontiersman and Indian fighter from Tennessee who parlayed his celebrity into becoming a politician, eventually rising to the ranks of congressman in the 1820s. When he failed to win re-election in 1835 he vowed to leave the United States and move to Mexico. He ended up fighting in the Texas Revolution and was killed at The Alamo along with all it's other defenders on March 6, 1836. Disney's Davy Crockett series stayed true to his history. The first episode covered his years as an Indian fighter, the second his years in Congress, and the third his final days leading up to the Battle of The Alamo. In the final minutes of the episode Crockett's friend and companion for the past three episodes, George Russell ( Buddy Ebsen ), dies from a gunshot wound. The walls of the Alamo having been breached by Mexican soldiers, Crockett ends up the last man standing, defiantly standing on the battlements and shooting Mexicans until his gun runs out of bullets, then bashing them on the head with his gun. The scene fades out as the hoards of Mexican soldiers surround him, sparing the audience the sight of Crockett being killed.
Disney had himself a dilemma. There was one nasty option on the table. They never actually showed Davy Crockett being killed at the Alamo. This left the possibility of having Crockett either escape or being taken prisoner. Either way, he would have survived the Alamo. This was an option Disney was dead set against. He wanted historic accuracy. Besides, every red blooded American knew that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo. There seemed no way around it, that is until someone at the studio asked the obvious question. Did every episode of Davy Crockett need to be shown in chronological order? Why not have new episodes that took place years before the Alamo? Which is exactly what Disney did, with two episodes that told a fictional story about a boat race between Crockett and another historical folk hero, Mike Fink. Of course it is highly unusual to have the series finale in the middle of a series. But if Disney had known how popular his Davy Crockett shows were to be, he probably would have never filmed an Alamo episode.
#10 Lex Luthor ( Michael Rosenberg ) - Smallville
Death and resurrection seemed like a regular occurrence on Smallville, the series based on Clark Kent's years directly before he became Superman. The producers loved to have characters appear to have been killed in the season finale, only to turn up alive an episode or two into the next season. But things became a little more permanent when Michael Rosenberg, who played the young Lex Luthor, decided to leave the series. At the end of season 7 Lex discovers Clack's Fortress of Solitude and attempting to destroy it when Clark shows up. The episode ends with the fortress crashing down on both men. In the beginning of season 8 Lex is missing and presumed dead. Behind the scenes producers had hoped to coax Rosenberg back. But when it became apparent he wanted nothing more to do with the series, the producers decided they needed to kill of Lex Luthor for good. Throughout that season Clark and his friends suspected that Lex was still alive and still running his organization while in hiding. Mid season it was revealed that Lex had suffered catastrophic injuries when the Fortress of Solitude was destroyed, and was reduced to an immobile body kept alive with various medical apparatus, some of which conveniently cover his face. But Lex had made one too many enemies, one of which was The Green Arrow who shot an exploding arrow at the trailer Lex was hiding in, blowing it up and killing him.
Had Rosenberg never returned to Smallville then Lex would have remained dead. But once the producers knew that season 10 would be the series last, they began negotiating with Rosenberg to return for the final episode. That negotiation went down to the wire, with the actor agreeing to reprise his role nearly at the last minute. In the final episode, the existence of a fully grown Lex Luthor clone is revealed. It didn't just look like Lex, but had all of Lex's memories. If the producers failed to get Rosenberg back, the contingency plan was to use the other Lex clone introduced earlier in the season. This clone was still a child, but could potentially grow up to be the next Lex Luthor.
#9 C.G.B. Spender a.k.a. Cancer Man ( William B Davis ) - The X-Files
The mysterious cigarette smoking man actually died twice. The X-Files had a multi series story arc that built a mythology about an alien invasion and the shadow government agency that was covering it up. That agency, later known as The Syndicate, was originally presented as group of men in a conference room that appeared briefly in four or five episodes a season. William B Davis, one of the extras hired to be in that group, stood out. Producer Chris Carter began giving Davis lines, eventually elevating him to the groups de facto leader, and eventually the series main villain. At the end of Season 7 David Duchovny announced he was leaving the show. Not thinking FOX would pick the series up for an 8th season, the final episode was written as a series finale. It was revealed the cigarette smoking man was dying of cancer and confined to a bed. Later in the episode the Syndicate attempted to have him killed by having an assassin push him down a flight of stairs in his wheelchair. But FOX did pick up the series when Duchovney agreed to return for a few episodes at the end of the season. An alien abduction explained his character's absence for the first half of the season. In the episodes Duchovny did appear in his character was gradually written out so that actor Robert Patrick could take over as lead character. Duchovny was off the show for good for season 9, his disappearance this time explained by his character voluntarily going into hiding. Ratings began to drop, and FOX decided to cancel the series. Carter decided to wrap the series up with a second series finale. Duchovny agreed to return for the final two part episode. Carter even brought back characters back from past episodes, including The Lone Gunmen who had been killed off a year earlier, and returned as a hallucination, or possibly ghosts. The episode ends with the revelation that the cigarette smoking man had survived his fall down the stairs and was now living in a cave. But this did not last long. After the cigarette smoking man confirms that they had been covering up an alien invasion, the Syndicate orders an air strike against the cave, which is blown to bits along with the cigarette smoking man.
Having a character recover from terminal cancer is possible, especially when that character probably has access to alien medicine. Having him survive from being pushed down a flight of stairs was also a possibility. The rule of thumb in any series like The X-Files is that if you do not see the body, then the character probably survived. And The X-Files was full of characters that came back from the brink. But there should have been no coming back from being blown to bits. Then again, Carter was not counting on FOX bringing the series back 12 years later. When the X-Files miniseries aired last year, the cigarette smoking man was once again alive, having somehow survived being blown up, and once again in charge of the Syndicate.
#8 Sara Lance ( Caity Lotz ) - Arrow
Exactly how many times can a series get away with killing off the same character? The producers of Arrow created the characters Detective Quentin Lance and his daughter Laurel Lance, basing them on the DC characters Detective Larry Lance and his daughter Dinah Laurel Lance. In the comics, Dinah Laurel Lance was the superhero The Black Canary who was the girlfriend of The Green Arrow. The plan was for Laurel to become The Black Canary on Arrow's second season. Her sister Sara Lance was created specifically for the series, and killed off within the first half hour of the pilot episode. While playboy Oliver Queen was the boyfriend of Laurel Lance, he decided to cheat on her with sister Sara, taking Sara on a yacht trip. When the yacht sank, Sara was thrown into the ocean and presumably drowned. To the writers Sara was just a plot device to keep Laurel and Oliver distant from each other for the first season. Laurel could not forgive Oliver for cheating on her with her sister, nor for getting her sister killed. Oliver is rescued from a deserted island five years later and returns to Starling City, where unbeknownst to anyone else he has become a vigilante later known as The Arrow. How Oliver became The Arrow was to be told in a series of flashbacks throughout the season.
By the end of the first season the producers felt they had not properly developed the Laurel character for her transformation into The Black Canary. Instead they introduced The Black Canary as a mysterious vigilante, eventually revealing that she was Laurel's sister Sara who had somehow survived. To make things more complicated, the producers decided to add Sara to the ongoing flashback story. So not only did the writes need to explain how Sara managed to be rescued then brought to the island, but then at the end of the season have her apparently drown again so that the continuity would mach up with Oliver's claim the season before that Sara had drowned. By the third season the decision was made to allow Laurel to become the Black Canary. Since there was no longer a need for Sara, the producers had her killed off for a third time. She is shot through the chest with arrows by an unseen assassin. The first half of the season has Arrow and his team tracking down Sara's killer while a grief stricken Laurel decides to take over Sara's Black Canary identity.
And that would have been the end for Sara. That is until the producers needed to bring her back to life for the spin-off series Legends of Tomorrow. Fortunately the series had something called a Lazarus Pit, which brought Oliver's sister back to life in the second half of the third season. In fact, online chatter among fans predicted the pit would be used to bring Sara back. So for a third time Sara was resurrected. Is it any wonder why fans of the series were not buying it when the series recently killed off Laurel?
#7 Charlie Harper ( Charlie Sheen ) - Two and a Half Men
In all honesty, Two and a Half Men should have concluded before season 8. The sitcom about two bachelors ( Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer ) raising a young boy should have ended once the boy grew up. But the show was a big hit, so ending it was unthinkable, even though it's star Charlie Sheen had relapsed back into drug addiction and had caused the seventh season to go on an unscheduled hiatus while he was in rehab. The next season Sheen not only relapsed again, but had a very public mental break down. The show was once again put on hiatus, during which Sheen began publicly denouncing the shows producer Chuck Lorre. That turned out to be a big mistake. Within days CBS announced that Sheen had been fired. Not just fired, but Lorre made sure he would never return to the show by killing his character off. In the opening scene of the 9th season the cast are at a funeral for Charlie, who during a honeymoon with his new wife Rose, had apparently stepped in front of a train and was pulverized. Ashton Kutcher was cast as a replacement character.
Sheen would not be the only cast member to leave the show after denouncing Lorre. Angust T Jones, who played Jake Harper, the boy Sheen and Jon Cryer were raising and was now an adult, had joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There he was convinced to publicly denounce the show, after which his character was written out of the series. While the initial episodes with Kutcher got better ratings than the episodes with Sheen, by the 11th season they had dropped off, and a decision was made that the show would end after it's 12th season. There had been a lot of speculation that Sheen would return for it's final episode. And for most of the episode that seemed to be a possibility. Charlie's wife Rose ( who had been a crazy stalker in it's first few seasons, and was still depicted as a bit crazy even after becoming romantic with Charlie ) admitted that he was still alive and had been tied up in her basement for the past four years. After he escapes he begins sending threatening letters to Cryer and Kutcher. In the final scene Charlie is seen from the back approaching the front door of the house. But before he can enter, a helicopter carrying a grand piano by a cable, drops it on Charlie, apparently killing him. The camera cuts to producer Chuck Lorre who yells out "Winning!", a phrase Sheen said often during his mental breakdown. A title card at the end of the show stated the following:
"I know a lot of you might be disappointed that you didn't get to see Charlie Sheen in tonight's finale. For the record, he was offered a role. Our idea was to have him walk up to the front door in the last scene, ring the doorbell, then turn, look directly into the camera and go off on a maniacal rant about the dangers of drug abuse. He would then explain that these dangers only applied to average people. That he was far from average. He was a ninja warrior from Mars. He was invincible.
And then we would drop a piano on him. We thought it was funny. He didn't. Instead, he wanted us to write a heart-warming scene that would set up his return to primetime TV in a new sitcom called The Harpers starring him and Jon Cryer.
We thought that was funny too."
#6 Phil Coulson ( Greg Clark ) - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agent Phil Coulson was once called the glue that held the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. Before the superheroes were officially linked together in The Avengers, the only link between each solo film was the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. and agent Coulson. And then Marvel killed him off. The Avengers needed something dramatic for it's second act, and Coulson was the only character that was expendable. He was stabbed through the chest with a staff by Loki, rushed into the medical bay, and died on the operating table. And that probably would have been the end of Coulson, had not the director of The Avengers, Joss Whedon, decided he wanted to do a television series featuring the character.
The first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has Coulson putting together a team of agents with no explanation as to why he is alive. Some agents even point out that S.H.I.E.L.D. records have Coulson listed as dead. His only response was that he had recuperated at Tahiti. It would take another fourteen episodes before a full explanation was given for Coulson's revival. It turned out Tahiti was actually a project called T.A.H.I.T.I., or Terrestrialized Alien Host Integrative Tissue. The project harvested parts from dead extra terrestrials for medical research. In Coulson's case, the blood of a dead Kree was used to bring him back from the dead, after which his memory was wiped and replaced with a false memory of vacationing at a Tahiti resort.
#5 Dr. Sara Tancredi ( Sarah Wayne Callies ) - Prison Break
Sarah Wayne Callies, who played prison doctor Sara Tancredi, was the first actor cast for this series. In the first season she falls in love with Michael Scofield ( Wentworth Miller ), the mastermind planning a mass prison break, and not only helps him with his plans, but in the next season goes on the lam with him. During contract negotiations for the third season the shows producers and Callies came to an impasse. At first the disappearance of her character was explain as her being kidnapped, along with Scofield's nephew. But soon after the first episode was shot, Callies announced that because the producers would not give her what she was asking for in her contract that she would be leaving the show. He character was permanently written out of the series when the kidnappers announce they had executed her. And to prove she was really dead, they had Sara's decapitated head in a box. In later episodes the nephew was rescued, and said he had witnessed Sara being murdered and decapitated. It would have seemed it was the end for Sara Tancredi, except that a few weeks later Callies contacted the producers saying she was once again interested in negotiating a contact for further seasons.
The third season was short due to the Writers Guild strike, and ended setting up the second season to be Michael avenging Sara's death. During the long break the producers and Callies agreed to a contact, and decided to bring her character back. Fresh off their strike, the Prison Break writers now needed to somehow explain why Sara was alive again. In the first episode of the fourth season, Michael catches up with one of the kidnappers, and is told that Sara was not killed, but had escaped. Of course this did not explain why they had a human head in a box that was a dead ringer for Sara's head, or that the nephew had witnessed her gruesome execution, or that upon escaping Sara made no attempt to contact Michael or anyone else but simply went home. Making less sense is why the kidnappers would have gone to the trouble of fabricating Sara's death when she could have easily contacted Michael to say she was alive. But when you get a bunch of disgruntled writers fresh off the picket line, and their fist assignment is to figure out how to nullify the previous season by bringing a dead character back to life, that is what you get.
#4 Tony Almeida ( Carlos Bernard ) - 24
For their fifth season, the producers of 24 decided they wanted to streamline their series. Over the past four decades the series had introduced more characters than it had killed off. The producers wanted to reduce the core characters to just Jack Bauer ( Kiefer Sutherland ), Chloe O'Brian ( Mary Lynn Rajskub ) and Audrey Raines ( Kim Raver ). They had tried to do this a season earlier, but ended up bringing the rest of the cast back as the season progressed. Mulling over their failure to write out characters the season before, the producers came up with the idea of writing them out permanently. And what better way of doing that than to kill most of those characters off in the first episode? Only a minute into the first episode former President David Palmer is shot to death by a sniper. A few minutes later agent Michelle Dessler is blown up in her car, and her boyfriend agent Tony Almeida is caught by a secondary blast while trying to rescue her. For several episodes Tony was unconscious and in critical condition as doctors worked on him. He recovers halfway through the season, and discovering Michelle had been killed, decided to take vengeance against the suspect CTU arrested for her death. Attempting to inject the suspect with Hyoscine-pentothal, the two men end up struggling, and it is Tony who ends up being injected as the suspect escapes. Jack enters the room too late, and Tony dies in his arms.
The planned seventh season of 24 had been cancelled due to the writers strike. Instead a two hour real time television movie, 24: Redemption, aired in late 2008. Worried that the skipped year would result in the loss of viewers, the producers came up with the idea of bringing Tony back as a villain. If anything, the viewers would return to find out how Tony could have still been alive. Of course, it was the old story of evil agents stealing Tony's body after he had died with no one noticing it was missing, evil agents somehow having doctors skilled enough to revive a body a few hours after it had died, and to remove the poisonous Hyoscine-pentothal from his system. And then the evil agency able to turn Tony once he had fully recovered.
#3 Jessica Tate ( Katherine Helmond ) - Soap
The sitcom and parody of daytime soap operas, Soap, had been on the bubble since the day it first debuted. Despite being a hit series, it's subject matter was considered so controversial by 70s television standards that ABC had trouble finding sponsors. It was also the favorite target of religious pressure groups before the arrival of Howard Stern. There was a good chance that Soap would not be renewed for a fourth season, which is probably why in the last episode of the third season the producer decided to kill Jessica Tate as a series closer. Jessica had been told by a doctor a few episodes earlier that she had a rare disease and she was dying. In the final scene of the final episode she passed away in her hospital bed surrounded by the rest of the cast.
But then ABC gave Soap a fourth season. Before the first episode aired, ABC aired a special clip show so that viewers who missed the previous season could catch up. During the clip show Jessica arrives at the gates of Haven where the life of her and her family are reviewed in flashbacks by an angel who will decide if she will go on to Heaven, or will be sent back to Earth. In the first regular episode of the season, the same doctor who told Jessica she had no hope, rushed into the room moments after her death and gave her CPR. She is revived, but was left in a coma. Somehow her short stint in a coma cured her of her rare disease, and in no time she was back to normal. Jessica may have been saved, but that would not be for long. In the last episode of the fourth season she found herself in front of a firing line in South America about to be executed. The final scene ended with a close up on Jessica and the sound of gunshots, leaving the viewers to wait until season five to find out what had happened. But ABC cancelled the series later that year. On a later episode of the spinoff series Benson, Jessica Tate was listed as missing and presumed dead. Benson dreamed her angle had visited him, but then told him she was in another coma.
#2 Jaime Sommers ( Lindsay Wagner ) - The Six Million Dollar Man
One of the more cliches from 70s television was the fatal fiancee. This was when one of the main characters meets and falls in love with a guest star, they get engaged, and just before the wedding the guest star is either killed in an accident, or succumbs to a fatal disease. A two or three episode story arc thrown into the series to add drama, and possibly earn the show an Emmy, but without killing off any of the actual cast members. In 1975 the producers of The Six Million Dollar Man decided to give Steve Austin ( Lee Majors ) his own fatal fiancee story arc, but with a twist. Reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart Jaime Sommers, the two fall in love again and decide to get married. Jaime has a sky diving accident that has her near death in a hospital. Steve begs the organization that gave him his bionics to do the same for Jaime in order to save her life. They do, and together Steve and Jaime begin solving crimes as a happy bionic couple. That is until she began having terrible headaches. At the hospital the doctors discover her body is rejecting her bionics, and she is rushed into surgery. After a few tense minutes a sad Dr. Rudy emerges from the operating room to tell Steve that Jaime died on the table.
That should have been the end of Jaime, but the response to the episodes was so impressive that the producers decided to bring Jaime Sommers back, with plans to spin her off in her own series The Bionic Woman. In the first episode of the next season, Steve damages his legs during a mission and is brought to the bionic hospital for repairs. While there he spots Jaime who is alive and well. Rudy tells Steve that Jaime did die, but was then subjugated to an experimental treatment that revived her. The only side effect was that she had lost all her memories, and no longer remembers nor cares for Steve, thus giving her a motive to go off to her own television show instead of marrying him. The episode sort of made sense, if you accept that Jaime was revived almost immediately after her death and they neglected to tell Steve, that they continued to forget to tell Steve his fiancee was still alive for almost a year, and that it never occurred to Steve that his fiancee never had a funeral.
#1 Bobby Ewing ( Patrick Duffy ) - Dallas
In 1985 Patrick Duffy wanted to move on to theatrical films. That meant leaving the hit series Dallas. In the last episode of the 8th season, a car is about to run over Pamela Ewing when her husband Bobby pushes her out of the way, only to be hit by the car himself. Bobby is rushed to a hospital, but while in a hospital bed surrounded by his family, dies from his injuries. And that should have been that, if not for two things. The first thing was that the movie career Patrick Duffy envisioned never materialized. After a year of finding no work, Duffy was ready to return to Dallas with his tail between his legs. The second thing, Dallas had dropped in the ratings from second place to 6th place, and the producers were desperate to do anything to reclaim the viewers they lost. In the final scene of the final episode of season 9, Pamela wakes up to hear someone in her bathroom. Someone is in her shower. She opens the shower door to find Bobby, who wishes her a good morning. And that is how the episode ended, freezing on Bobby Ewing with the credits for the producer.
Fans could not believe what they had just seen. Now they needed to wait the whole summer until the next season to find out how Bobby had returned from the dead. There had to be a reasonable explanation, right? Well, there was an explanation, but it wasn't reasonable. The first episode of the 10th season begins where the last season left off. Bobby notices that Pamela is upset and asks her what was wrong. She tells him that she just had a bad dream that he had been killed in an accident. That's right folks, Pamela had dreamed the entirety of season 9, and God knows how many episodes of season 8 as well. A nice detailed dream that included all the other characters in situations she was not involved with. A dream that also included and entire season of the spin off series Knots Landing, where the characters there had also mourned Bobby's death. Turning the previous season into a dream not only allowed the producer to bring Bobby back to the series, but to nullify the previous poorly rated season. Something fans were not happy with considering the season finale prior to Pamela waking up also included the death of some major characters as well as the Ewing building exploding. All of that never happened. Meanwhile on Knots Landing, they were not as willing to cede an entire season. That series continued on as if Bobby's death had happened. The producers of Dallas had hoped bringing Patrick Duffy back would help with the ratings. It didn't. Instead the dream revelation drove viewers away. Dallas dropped from 6th place to 11th place. The bleed off of viewers continued each season until the final season where it ranked at #61
More by this Author
Is there a rivalry between the former cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000? They deny it, but with two competing riff projects, it is possible.
No comments yet.